Lake Erie now the hot spot for perch
Written by Booth Newspaper   
Monday, 27 June 2005 02:58
Remember how things were on Lake Michigan in the early 1990s, when there were plenty of perch? That's how they are in Lake Erie right now and, for that matter, have been for a while.

I got a chance to sample the perch fishing when veteran outdoor writer Tom Huggler invited me on a charter in Canadian waters (perch fishing is good in Michigan and Ohio waters, too). Huggler brought a neighbor and I brought my father, hooking up at a spot about a half-hour drive beyond the Ambassador Bridge.

We fished aboard Butcher Buoy, a 30-foot Sport Craft with Ron Graves, a skipper who was a meat cutter in his previous life (hence the boat's name). Graves, who has been chartering for years both here and at Erieau, a port a bit further east, is a relatively new convert to perch fishing. He spent much of his time in previous years fishing for steelhead and walleye (or, as the Canadians, say, pickerel, eh?)

But, Graves has found there's an increased interest in perch fishing the last couple of years and though he remains a pickerel angler at heart, he's not about to turn down a paying gig.

"We've had good walleye fishing the last two years," Graves said. "But, I'll do whatever the customer wants."

There are two main differences to the sports. If he's walleye fishing, Graves prefers to drift. If he's perch fishing, he anchors.

The other? The bait.

"It's just a matter of picking up worms or minnows," he said.

We headed due south from the port about nine or 10 miles, out to a reef in about 40 feet of water, when Graves spotted some fish on his depth finder. He anchored up and we started fishing with minnows.

Graves uses a fairly standard two-hook rig when perch fishing, with a slightly unique twist. Using #6 snelled hooks, he attached one directly to the snap that connects with the line, with a 3/4th ounce sinker. That puts the lower bait smack on the bottom. He ties the other hook about a foot or so up the line.

Putting a bait on the bottom appeared to be a wise decision; early on, all of our fish came on the bottom hook. As the bite picked up, however, we started catching them on the top hook, too.

The weather had changed when we arrived (we were fishing into the teeth of a dreaded east wind) and the action was slower than Graves' had hoped. It was fairly rare that more than one of us had a fish on at the same time. And only once, did anyone catch a double.

We picked up and moved several times, once when several captains said over the radio that they were getting good results, but we never seemed to sit down on a motherlode, which disappointed Graves.

"We started May 21 this year and our first trip we had about 150, and about 20 percent of them were jumbos," he said. "The next day we only had about 90, but probably half of them were jumbos."

Perch fishing gets better as the season goes on, Graves said, with more and larger fish caught heading into autumn.

"They're here all year, but the fall fishing is the best," Graves said. "The fish grow over the summer, eh?"

The fish we caught were fairly nice and there were a fair number of year-classes mixed together in the schools. We kept fish that were about 8 inches or longer (for the record, 8- and 9-inch perch are better table fare than the giants) with the biggest 13 inches and a fair number of 11-inch fish mixed in.

By the time we were finished (we fished only about four hours because Huggler had a previous commitment), we had more than 50 of them in the cooler.

That's the great thing about perch fishing -- even on a slow day, you usually wind up with more than you really want to clean.

And there was one more bonus: We never caught a single goby. In the last three or four years on Lake Michigan, that fact alone would make the trip worthwhile.

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